Category Archives: Writing

Lady Bird

33333

 

Lady Bird, 1962

She had stood outside in the snow for several minutes, admiring the winter birds high above her. The Pennsylvania sky was as overcast and majestic as her secret mood. The alchemy inside her granted her both patience and anticipation, each uneasy with the other. The infrequent passersby would note her demure presence as she shifted her hands inside her coat pockets. Many would take a second lingering glance, as something in her eyes and face seemed exotically out of place in the slush and roadside snow.

I alone dared to pull over and shut off the engine to my car. Inside it, I remained for a long moment, momentarily unsure of myself and caught off guard by the uncertainty. I smashed my cigarette out in the console ashtray, reached for my camera and exited the vehicle. The wind ran up the legs of my pants, causing me to shiver and clutch one side of my coat hastily.

Without preamble, I swallowed my fear and I crossed the slushy street and asked, “Can I take your picture?” My voice came out like a high-pitched plea. She laughed.

“Of course, although I don’t know why you would want to.” She laughed again. She motioned for me to come closer.

Once I reached her side, she pointed up and I followed the arc of her arm as she raised it.

“Those birds, they only seem to come around for 2 or 3 days a year. If they land nearby, they’ll talk to us in their own way. And if you throw them bread, they will swoop past you close enough to touch, if you were so inclined.” Her voice took on a lilting cadence as she spoke as if she were reading her own diary in the late hours of the night.

I watched the birds as I stood beside her. From her pocket, she removed a carefully-folded paper sack. She opened it and reached inside, then scattered pieces of dark bread in the snow.

“Wait,” she whispered, her head still pointed toward the sky.

She threw another handful, higher in the air, and the pieces arced and fell.

The birds, high above us, had taken notice and began to point their bodies downward. Within seconds, a dozen birds were swirling around us, their wings making rhythmic noises as they approached. Each bird had a small swath of red on their necks as if to mark their squadron with a uniform insignia.

Almost in unison, the birds extended their talons and landed. They began poking rapidly at the rye bread pieces on the white snow. As the bread disappeared, the birds began clucking and squawking in staccato bursts. They sounded like old ladies, with voices ruined by clouds of cigarette smoke, each trying to shout down the others.

As the woman tossed more bread pieces on the ground, the birds would take turns grabbing a piece as the others continued their squawking.  Their collective noises sounded like out of tune violins but I could discern the haunting melody of it nonetheless.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” She asked me.

I nodded yes as I listened and watched. I was hesitant to speak, lest the lingering magic of the moment notice me observing it.

With no more bread in her pockets, she put her hands back inside them and waited. The birds restlessly paced, their squawks becoming a disharmonious crescendo. They lifted off but instead of taking to the sky, they looped around us two or three times as they rose. After reaching 30 or 40 feet, their squawks ceased, leaving an exquisite absence of sound. The woman laughed again, a laugh tinged with delight, and it reminded me of a row of shattered icicles falling from an early morning roof.

I stepped away from the woman, raised my camera, and pointed it at her. She looked away from the sky for a moment and smiled at me. I pressed the shutter button and felt the moment already begin to fade away, like watching an old friend sitting in the back of his parent’s car, waving as he pulled away.

As I lowered the camera, something must have registered in my face, as she ran the few step between us and hugged me, one filled with warmth.

I got back into my car, once again inside the familiar and known. As I started the car, I looked back one last time, to see her there, faced turned upward in silent joy as she watched her birds flying high.

I’ve never shared this picture with anyone before today, all these years later.

I’ve witnessed the width and breadth of this fascinating world. Nothing, however, lingers in my heart like the stolen moment I shared with Lady Bird. I do not know who she is or anything particular to her story but I do know that sometimes if we dare, the most common thing can shatter itself to reveal the wondrous.

Those birds are still up there, flying high, waiting for us all, if we dare. Lady Bird might be just around the corner for you, too.

 

It’s Your Language – Use It With Abandon

jordan-butler-29125.jpg

You don’t need my permission, of course. You certainly don’t need my approval, either. Likewise, you are entitled to roll your eyes in derision, mockery or contempt at anyone who corrects you for your punctuation or grammar in a text message. Unless your relationship is based on inequality, you should also expand this idea to include all private messages.

I’m not advocating total disregard for decorum – it’s not an invitation to use the ceiling fan to shave your back hair. Rather, my point is that anyone who takes the time to admonish you for informal text communication is a bigger nuisance than any perceived wrongdoing from sloppy language.

If the other person is chiding you good-naturedly, it doesn’t count as snobbery, so try to let those instances slide without a street duel. I’m not advocating that you be an ass to light-hearted cajoling or ridicule. What I am asking is that you take charge of your life and stop worrying about grammar and content when you are informally communicating. We didn’t vote on this concern – so ignore it.

It’s amazing how much of your life can be lived in this manner. Even a life perfectly lived will draw criticism, right down to the style of pants you wear or how you like to eat your french fries.

Those who relish correcting grammar can’t be stopped, so it’s best to adopt the position that they all suffer from the incurable disease of Grammar Tourette’s Syndrome, except their affliction stems from the mistaken idea that they are arbiters of grammar, spelling, and usage and this status compels them to lash out in self-appointed glee.

Sidenote: English doesn’t have a committee to decide usage or structure. It’s a fluid, evolving mass of ridiculous logic and rules. It belongs to all of us. Standard English is a myth we strive for without pausing to consider that it’s a moving target. Even if we understand the rules, they certainly don’t hold sway in our intimate private lives.

Life is short. Using tools for rapid, convenient communication should not be an ordeal or an exercise in English 101. Be as vigilant as you find it necessary to be and adjust accordingly. But if your blurbs to others are treated with a hostile eye, assume that the person complaining is a bit of an ass and go about your life as if his or her presence in no way determines how you’ll live. That part is most certainly true.

One of life’s greatest pleasures is knowing the rules and ignoring them. No matter how vigilant you are with language, you’re going to make mistakes. Even when you’ve followed all the rules, there will still be disagreement, even among the most educated and learned individuals. Language is not science, nor will it ever be. Since it’s always evolving, become a deliberate part of that process and reject all the components and obligations which don’t serve you.

Take a moment and really, really piss off a language purist. Write as you will and laugh when the sputtering objections commence. If they’ve taken the time to let you know how irritated they are by your lack of adherence to the ‘rules,’ you owe it to yourself to help them get over their unnatural affliction.

Get out your phone and text someone now. Pretend that you’re drunk and can’t spell any word longer than ‘eel.’ You’ll thank me for it.

K?

Your welcome

C U later.

Apostrophonies

samuel-scrimshaw-361576

 

Apostrophonies: a word to describe those dedicated to the linguistic contortions of logic and denial to justify the continued existence of the apostrophe.

After years of watching the apostrophe debate ebb and flow, I’m voting that we eliminate it. Most of our communication occurs verbally and we’ve survived centuries without needing to wave our arms when an apostrophe is needed.

The grammar brigade can gnash their teeth in protest as they make the tired argument that tradition trumps utility or that our collective language will lose some of its elegance. It’s snobbery to decry nonstandard usage and it bemoans the history of every single change to our language.

Elimination of the apostrophe isn’t a capitulation to the myth of uneducated misuse or modern texting; it’s an overdue necessity. Our language has continuously evolved, and usage determines its structure. We have no arbiter of official usage; “Standard English” is a myth perpetuated by those whose livelihood depends on it, comprising a cabal of dusty minds looking backward.

To make matters worse, many people don’t realize we have a verb to describe the insertion of an apostrophe: apostrophize. Or ‘apostrophise,’ if you’re in the country in which our language was birthed.

One can make subtle arguments regarding those instances when an apostrophe MIGHT reduce vagueness, but if this is your argument, you can’t turn a blind eye toward the other 3 dozen ways in which English contains aberrant structures which inhibit clear understanding.

Contractions, plurals, plural possessives, apostrophes-of-omission, and all other usages have exceptions which don’t further the objective of language or increase its beauty.

Like it or not, we can literally change the language in any manner we see fit. We’ll either rid ourselves of the apostrophe or worsen its usage as people struggle against its ongoing and needless usage in our language.

The apostrophe should get its coat and make a graceful exit before we kick it in the seat of the pants.

Purists might miss it but I’m certain they’ll find another rallying cry of illogic to focus on. Those insisting on tradition always do.

Please remember that I love language but despise the focus on mechanics. Language should not be an obstacle to expression.

P.S. Remember that I’m not advocating for a free-for-all in regards to all rules, so please cook up a better point about what I am NOT saying.

Choose Wisely

 

9999999999999999999999999999.jpg

The internet is a huge, vast space, much like the world around us.

No matter your pace, you’ll never reach the end of it, explore all of its mysteries or be able to pause sufficiently to breathe it all in.

Your time is precious, as is your attention, energy, and focus.

If you value the seconds stealing past you, you’ll wonder why it is that so many of us fixate on that which does not embellish our lives with wonder, interest, or happiness.

I assume if you take a slice of your finite life and spend it writing something angry or derogatory, it’s unlikely that anything I say will minimize the pain or frustration you’re feeling with either the world or the ideas on display.

There’s insufficient data to help me discover whether you’re having a bad day, chose ill-advised words or truly meant the words or tone used.

Rather than acknowledge it or waste your time or mine, I’ll hide, ignore or delete your interaction and focus my time and self more acutely. I treat any page I manage as my living room – and people interacting in my living room know what the expectations probably are, in part because they know who I am.

Each of us has a fluctuating ability to tolerate craziness, coarseness, discourtesy, and mayhem; what triggers us one day may pass unnoticed the next. I know full well that no one in their right mind wants me in their living room all the time, especially if I forget that the internet is a trillion living rooms, each inhabited by different people and inclinations.

Because the internet is so complex, wondrous and vast, we should treat it like a tv with a trillion channels. Change channels if you’re offended or find yourself focusing on how much you dislike the channel you’re on.

There’s no conspiracy, just a reminder to spend your time on worthwhile interactions – on pages and posts which give you pleasure.

Sometimes I make errors in judgment, as the written word often fails to capture nuance and subtlety. I apologize if I err and misunderstand your intentions.

Life is shorter than you can imagine.

It’s always my hope that if I misspeak, misstep or err that you’ll pause in your condemnation long enough for me to realize my error or make amends. Sometimes though, even good people reach an impasse in which neither appreciates the conundrum of their disagreement.

Let’s both enjoy time in the vast wilderness of the internet.

We don’t all need to play on the monkey bars together but it’s advisable to find fun and peace somewhere on the vast playground of the internet.

There’s sun for us all here, if we choose it.

 

6666.png

(Just joking with the last picture…)

I Own My Story

It’s true that my memory isn’t perfect and sometimes I exaggerate to amplify a point. But the story is mine, outlining a world I created in my imagination in response to the people, places, things and thoughts around me.

If you going to visit it, please remember that if you want to play a good character, you can’t be an ass and expect a starring role. I’ll try to minimize your story arc if you’re misbehaving but no promises in this regard can be made or kept.

I’ve used variations of the above for several years, as people struggled against my right to express the content of my life, even if I sometimes made errors in its telling.

When I started walking frequently, I downloaded an insane number of TED talks and similarly-structured audio files. I was walking near one of my favorite spots listening to my second TED talk of the day when Anne Lamott’s segment started.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

 

834rftrg

 

This quote reverberated through my head. It conveyed almost exactly the sentiment I’d felt for years. It’s one thing to know something – and another when a bona fide voice of authority echoes your idea.

Now, I use Anne’s quote instead of my own original sentiment. Because I’m not the one who said these exact words, I can use them like a spear. Coming from someone who can be googled somehow grants the same idea some clout contrasted against my attempt.

So many people are reluctant to tell their stories. Some are worried they lack the ability to be honest and fair, while others are concerned that they lack the language skills to avoid being mocked. It’s a risk to tell a story, especially one which reveals a part of yourself to the world. It’s a risk not to, as well.

In my own world, I tend to be aware of not identifying everyone in my stories. It gives them the opportunity to continue on with their lives without my imperfect alterations. There are times, though, when I feel it necessary to describe people by name, relation or occupation. I hope it’s never out of malice but even I know that our minds behave in ways we don’t always recognize honestly.

I would hope that anyone reading this would welcome the chance to share their lives with those around them. Allowing people to experience our thoughts and lives is one of the only ways to experience a full life.

The stories are ours to share, for good, bad, or ugly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom of Discussion

julian-paul-378497.jpg

The truth is that I would love to be in a position to write freely about any topic in my heart and mind.

I know what you’re thinking: “You can can do that already.”

It’s not true, though.

Like so many others, I have a list of masters, each with a thumb pressed against my ability to speak freely.

More than luxury cars, a mansion, or the ability to travel the world, I’d like to be able to sit down and follow ideas to any destination.

The bizarre thing is that there are times when I am convinced that if I would just abandon all pretense and start writing this way without any guarantees that I probably would achieve independence.

X

A Little Commentary About Social Media

benjamin-davies-301161 with x.png

 

I’ve not posted in a few days because so many people who’ve never met me read my last post on my public figure page. ( My public-figure FB page….) It’s a separate FB page of mine, still using my real name. My personal FB page is at: My personal FB page…  I took the time to stop and consider every word shared with me, whether shared on social media or my own website. Instead of posting or writing, I took the time to ingest anything sent to me.

Every once in a while I write something, albeit inexpertly, which resonates with a wide swath of people. The post about “The Glass Castle” was one of those things which echoed and ricocheted. It drew very little attention on my personal FB page but it went far on the public-figure version of my FB. It is a strange thing to see total strangers react to my words and engage in a way that people who know me don’t. It led a few people to find other things I’ve written; many of them reacted with surprise at the sheer quantity of it. If they wrote, they told me that they were caught off guard by the mix of personal stories and weird humor.

None of them have gone beyond casually mentioning that my grammar is sometimes in need of a ruler across the knuckles. The internet’s usual trollish response was nowhere to be found. One person reminded me of something I wrote several years ago: “Write without the discoloration of perfectionism. Someone else can proofread and edit. You don’t need to know how to plumb your house in order to turn on the kitchen faucet and prepare a gourmet meal, do you?”

To anyone who has written, I’ve replied by including a request that they share a story of their lives, whether it is funny, serious, or unpolished. I explain to them that we have one of the best communication tools ever devised being wasted on resharing and repetition of what others produce. It’s my hope that most of them will think about what I’ve asked and use social media to tell the rest of us a story.

Several have sent me anecdotes and shared stories of their lives with me. To me, this is the essence of social media – and one which we tend to neglect. So many say they are displeased with social media, but rarely does anyone put in the effort to make it interesting and personal.

To anyone who shared, I consider it to be a gift, one of the most personal ones possible. If I can write anything which propels another person to take moments of their lives and share a little of theirs, I’ve achieved a measure of success. These types of exchanges erase almost all the animus of political and personal animosity people experience.

What total strangers continue to teach me is that it is difficult to know one’s own story in the way that others might recognize. I’m enthralled with the strangeness of social media reaching so far, through the almost impenetrable fog of the unfamiliar.

I’m still contemplating the fact that very few of my friends interacted with the post, while hundreds of strangers read what I wrote, and some then took the time to share their own stories. I got a glimpse of the power of words, even at the hands of a hack like myself.

Living in a Glass Castle

This isn’t simply a review of the movie “The Glass Castle,” nor is it simply a biographical reflection. It is, however, an unsettling hybrid of a portion of myself and the movie. Like all things observed, our own peculiar perspective discolors the content of what we occupy ourselves with: our own face and temperament are reflected in the things we deceive ourselves into believing to be mere entertainment. While I was entertained by the movie, I was also stabbed in a way that few movies can achieve.

I knew the movie preview was slightly misleading and that it had artfully avoided showing the underbelly of what pervaded Jeannette Wall’s life. To be honest, I had forgotten the memoir, even though it was a book that I very much wanted to read a few years ago. After seeing the movie, I can appreciate just how much of the grime, horror, and shock was dropped from it. People love great stories but often recoil when the truth is laid bare. When a good writer is determined to be both honest and unflinching, some stories become too overwhelming. It’s quite the art to begin telling a story that people want to hear, but cringe as they lean in to hear the words they know will hurt them in a way that’s difficult to see.

Perversely, I was relieved to know that my instinct about the movie being sanitized was accurate. Much of the nuance was powerful and authentic; as a student of family violence, a couple of the scenes seemed disjointed to me. Perhaps it is madness to expect continuity in craziness but once you’ve filtered out the normalcy, even lunacy has its rules.

In the movie, Woody Harrelson as the dad is arguing with his daughter, insisting that she’s a revisionist to history. This pathos is one I’ve long held close to my own heart in my adult life. While I sometimes fail to steer away from revisionism, I at least know that I’m not impervious to the tendency. So many others, though, they cling to their idealized fantasies about people in our lives. They frequently take out their acquired masks and repaint them, all to tell themselves that the monsters in their past weren’t really monsters, just tormented and troubled people. People who do their best to tell their stories and to unmask their monsters are a threat to their self-identity. I want to see the monsters, both in my own life and in the lives of others. It does no one an injustice if you are sharing a piece of yourself. Each one of us owns our stories, even those pieces which darkly silhouette our lives.

I’ve written before that sometimes I observe the world and am amazed that most people seem to be unpoisoned by their own secret boxes, the ones some of us have managed to swallow, surpass, and mostly overcome. In my case, I judge most other people to be novices regarding human violence. Knowing the box is there at all robs me of a portion of my ability to live freely. It’s ridiculous to assert otherwise. If you don’t have such a box, feel glad, rather than doubtful that others had the necessity of constructing one to avoid fragmenting into incoherence.

 

After the movie and during the credits, the dad Rex was shown in grainy black and white, peering out of an abandoned building’s window, ranting about capitalism and property. It was clear that he was much angrier, unmoored, and detached than the movie would have us assume. My wife wouldn’t know it as she sat mesmerized beside me, but it was a visceral punch for me. The flash of recognition I experienced in seeing Rex as he really was versus Woody Harrelson’s impersonation of him almost untethered me. Seeing his as a ‘real’ person somehow unmasked the subtleness and veneer of the movie. Gone was the pretense of nobility or great acts. I could only see the residue of a base life, like the yellowish tint which permeates a smoker’s life. No matter what good Rex Hall might have done in his life, he was a part of what allowed children to be damaged. That any of them took this stew of disaster and emerged with great lives is a testament to our creativity and resolve.

So many of us had family members who would only marginally fit our definitions of what it means to be human. We individually adjust, trying to come to terms with the insanity of anger, knowing in our own hearts that some people are permanently damaged. We fight against the ignorance of others, the ones who insist that forgiveness and acceptance are on our plate and must be consumed. We know that anyone who hasn’t been in a room with a family member and suffered the inconvenience of knowing that our loved one truly might kill us in that moment cannot ever be reached on an emotional level. Until you’ve felt the metaphorical knife, the blade is just a vague unknowable threat.

One of my demons in life has been my aversion to a return to the crucible of anger and those who live there. I’ve been happiest when I’ve been able to reject such associations and cut the strings, and in some cases to stretch them. It’s always a fight, though, because those still melting in the crucible fight to keep you tethered to it as well. I no longer judge as harshly as I once did. Each of us decides for ourselves how our lives should proceed. Seeing the strings is all too often the first step to either severing them or ignoring them. I don’t take kindly to the angry insistence that I pay homage to the monstrous portions of my own past. I’m well aware that I have more than a few people who would gladly bash my head against a stone if it would mean they could resume believing the fantasy that my stories expose as untruths.

I know that intelligence forces us to do strange things with horror and mistreatment. Most of us buttress our sanity by converting these things into humor. It’s a skill I’ve honed for a few decades. As the credits rolled, I watched as Jeannette’s brother joked about his father’s memory, even as he sat at a table with his siblings who shared his past. I can’t speak for him. I do note, however, the brush of nostalgia in his words. Time is what grants us peace and the ability to laugh. Because life goes on, the fists and shattered bottles on the kitchen floor fade. We count our scars, both seen and unseen, and put one foot in front of another.

And sometimes, we watch a flawed movie that somehow reaches a talon inside our clenched hearts and ruptures a piece of what we’ve imprisoned away from the light. Because I know that the author of “The Glass Castle” had a life which was much worse than the movie revealed, my memory is slightly more forgiving. It makes me glad that the grandmother’s legacy has been forever stained and that some things were allowed to slither out from under the rocks to be viewed.

That a memoir such as “The Glass Castle” was written warms my heart. Jeannette Walls overcame and used her gift to sling arrows out into the world. Arrows are both weapon and tools, and she has done a great service to her own survival. The discomfort people might feel is an acknowledgment of how much suffering happens in the world. Next door, across town, wherever people live and breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Language Is Communication, Not Math…

moritz-schmidt-17467

For those who obsess over nuances such as semicolon appropriateness, you are of course correct in your insistence but wrong in your logic.

Language is communication, not math; authoritative attempts toward grammatical obedience leads to a cabal of ignored perfectionists, their collective pomp drawing the wrong kind of attention. Those using the language own it; if you find yourself outnumbered by those who refuse allegiance to the arcane rules of grammatical engagement, your only recourse is to use language as you see fit.

It is a gross assumption to claim that we commonly agree on the rules of language.

English is a voracious language and fluid in its spectacle. Most of the errors we perceive in our judgment of its usage tend to be the fault of the preposterous litany of illogical and capricious rules which allegedly govern it. Humans will never willingly pay homage to rules which betray the twin paths of practicality and reason.

When used with creative vigor, it is true that language is a beautiful governess attending to us. When used as a dead repository of grammatical obligations, it is a scorned woman yanking at her own hair.

Time teaches us that entropy destroys even the illusion of consistency in the form and content of our words. Grammar is the imagined road map to a place which no one gleefully visits, while spelling is the witchcraft of barking dogs in a canyon a mile distant.

Each language holds its own secrets and none owe allegiance to others or even its own previous incarnation. It all adds up to a frenzied verbal fist fight with usage always being the declared victor. We can weep at its frenzied evolution but we cannot contain it, even as our objections mount skyward.

If you doubt any of this to be true, learn another language as intensely as your first. Language embodies all the beauty and dismay of man himself.

Insert Badly-Titled Title Here…

2560x1600-air-force-dark-blue-solid-color-background-2

It’s easy to see who values the internal mechanisms of one’s life. On social media, I write many introspective or narrative pieces. They glide past the superficial and lay bare parts of me. The people who know me best and appreciate me for who I am invariably read or participate in those discussions. Yes, I know that some of my posts are lengthy – but so are conversations and shared experiences. I don’t expect people to clamor to show up at my house each Friday evening; likewise, I don’t anticipate each friend deliberately using his or her limited time to come find my posts and inhale them, either.

If I were to construct a Venn diagram of introspective narratives versus superficial posts, there is almost no overlap for several of my social media friends. It’s not a question of time involvement, either, as demonstrated by participation on other equally engaging timelines or interests. I’m obviously not including those without social media or those who never participate in time-intensive engagement.

This is a sign that I’m being monitored by some friends instead of appreciated.

This isn’t a call for “look at me;” rather, it is a reminder that social media provides a multitude of windows into our friend’s lives. Like our lives, the totality of interaction and value leaves a wake behind it. An observant person can’t help but to draw inferences from those signs. It’s true that some inferences are wrong, mainly because we jump to conclusions without direct connections based on the evidence. But we have our personal instincts which usually serve to point us in the right direction.

A sociologist who loves these trends and studies them tells me that this a trend which affects the frequency of people’s posts, as well as the depth of what they share of their personal life. It’s like the son who is gay who calls his mom and she chooses to discuss the banal stories about work instead of the son’s intense desire to adopt a child in opposition to social forces. Or if someone personally writes about his or her dislike of social policy and only those motivated by the desire to tell him how wrong he is opt to comment. If people are arguing with you about social policy, it tends to indicate they don’t agree with a lot you are doing or saying about your personal life, either, as obvious a statement as that might be.  It’s a tough sell to get people to see this nuance about sharing and interacting.

If friends comment on your superficial posts but mostly ignore what you have to say when you’re sharing parts of yourself, they aren’t really interested or invested in you as a person. It is more likely that are self-validating, which is a very human reaction. It’s just each of us must decide to what degree we are comfortable with this. Even with this point, I have to make an exception for those who have larger followings of those interested in them solely for a specific topic.

It would never occur to me to comment or interact on superficial or political posts if I consistently ignore the personal ones. I’m doing a poor job explaining exactly why this seems indecorous to me, though.

My experience tells me that if you aren’t unilaterally participating with the range of my posts, you aren’t really that interested in me or my life.

There are exceptions to the above, of course, and always, I haven’t expertly fleshed out my argument.